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.Shabba Ranks at Sumfest.
.Shabba Ranks at Sumfest.—-

By Sadeke Brooks—

With an event that it would be next to impossible to host without sponsorship, Reggae Sumfest’s Johnny Gourzong says the event continues to have a positive impact on Jamaica’s tourism and economy.  This is as he looks towards the 21st staging of the festival, from July 21 to 27 this year.

Proud of Reggae Sumfest’s contribution, Gourzong, who is the executive director of Summerfest Productions which puts on Reggae Sumfest, said the three-day festival injects cash into home city Montego Bay.

“It has a significant financial impact,” he said, noting that the event also results in an income boost for hotels, airlines, restaurants, night-clubs, ground transportation, attractions and vendors,” he said. That places the festival in strong economic territory, as in the Economic And Social Survey Jamaica 2012, prepared by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, it was stated that “real value added for the Hotels & Restaurants industry grew by an estimated 1.8 per cent and contributed 5.5 per cent to Gross Domestic Product during 2012”.

“It has a positive impact. The brand is a strong world brand and we enjoy patronage from people all over the world and the event also exposes the country to persons who might not otherwise be visiting Jamaica,” Gourzong said, speaking to Sumfest’s international reach.

So strong is the impact that many years ago, there was a suggestion that the Sumfest date be changed from August to July. “The hotels do well without Sumfest, but it certainly bumps it up in the week of Sumfest. Many years ago, the festival used to be staged the first week of August. The JTB (Jamaica Tourist Board) suggested that we take steps to move into July because it was not as strong a week (for hotels),” Gourzong told The Sunday Gleaner.

Lady Saw honored in 2013

Lady Saw honored in 2012

Jason Hall, deputy director of tourism, cruise, events and attractions at the JTB, supported Gourzong’s claims. “In the case of Sumfest, we know that most hotels in Montego Bay are fully booked and this high occupancy often extends west to Negril and east to Ocho Rios. It is primarily for this reason that we target and encourage events to be staged in the low summer months,” Hall told The Sunday Gleaner, noting that the event has to be of a certain calibre to attract people.While they are yet to come up with a way to effectively capture the specific contributions of events, Hall said “inferences can be made, based on numbers in attendance and hotel bookings for the period”. He added that visitors attending major events like Sumfest also spend on attractions, restaurants, transportation and shopping.

Country gets publicity

But it is not only about the money, as the country also gets some publicity.

“We also find that events can generate a certain level of PR equivalency – a means to get positive exposure for the destination in international media – and this is an area that we also focus on. Every year Sumfest attracts substantial media from all over the world who are facilitated to come down and cover the festival, churning out media impressions that reach millions,” Hall said.

In addition to the thousands of visitors from North America and several other countries, Hall said “Media coverage resulted in audience reach of four million persons. This does not include the other coverage facilitated by the organisers, which is in excess of seven million”.

Now in their 21st year, Gourzong said there haven’t been many low points. Those were “in the early years when we were naïve and suffered financial losses. We had to put our shoulders against the wheel to make it happen. We owe our gratitude to sponsors who have stuck with us”.

Some of the sponsors he praised are JTB, Digicel, Red Stripe, Pepsi, Secrets, Iberostar, Holiday Inn, Riu, Sunset Beach, The Gleaner, CVM TV, RJR Group and Irie FM.

“Sponsors are critical to the staging of the event. I don’t think we would have been able to do it without them. The cost of putting on the event is enormous and we are not able to impose a ticket price that is commensurate with the cost of the event,” Gourzong said.

He explained that it would cost upwards of US$150 (per night) to attend a festival like Reggae Sumfest in other countries. “We could not contemplate charging that,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said there have been many strong points in the two decades. High on the list are the magnificent performances, improved production, and relationships that have been forged.

Lisa Hanna presented Shabba Ranks with plaques in 2012

Lisa Hanna presented Shabba Ranks with plaques in 2012

At the 2013 International Reggae Conference, held at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, in February, Summerfest Productions identified some of the highlights in the festival’s history. Among them were 1993 performances by Tiger and Lady Saw, showings by Shabba Ranks in 1994 and 2012 (when he returned as the Dancehall Emperor), Steel Pulse and Ini Kamoze in 1995 and Elephant Man teaching Chris Brown and Usher dance moves last year. There was also a particularly blazing year with Capleton.

Over the many years of the event, there have been many changes in the stage show and festival landscape. This year has seen the movement of Western Consciousness from Westmoreland and Rebel Salute from St Elizabeth, to join Reggae Sumfest on the North Coast. Western Consciousness was staged in Montego Bay in April and Rebel Salute over two days in January at Richmond Estate, Priory, St Ann.

Instead of feeling threatened, Gourzong says “We welcome them. I think Rebel Salute is a great event and so is Western Consciousness”.

And he would welcome more. “There is still room for a three-day festival like Reggae Sumfest. There is room for four big festivals a year,” Gourzong told The Sunday Gleaner.

Having had some hiccups in the formative years, he said Reggae Sumfest has taught him some lessons. “The business lesson is that you can’t give up. There are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be pitfalls. You have to push yourself and move on. Show business is riskier than other businesses,” he said.


Gourzong promises that patrons will not be taking a risk when Reggae Sumfest 2013 is held from July 21 to 27, as they will get quite the treat.

“Plans are to put on another great event. We don’t go out there trying to reinvent the wheel. We try to improve the product and the production. We want to ensure that patrons are satisfied with what they receive,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Having already announced that R&B singer Miguel will perform at the show, Gourzong was tight-lipped about the other international acts Summerfest Productions is currently in negotiations with. Some of the other confirmed acts are Chronixx, Beres Hammond, Barrington Levy, Lady Saw, Tifa, I-Octane (who will close Dancehall Night), Damian Marley, Nature, Droop Lion, Spice, Aidonia, Iba Mahr, Beenie Man, and Tarrus Riley.

The rest of the line-up will be announced by the first week in June.


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